Who Was Emma Hart Willard?

Emma Hart was born on February 23, 1787 in a simple farmhouse on Lower Lane in Berlin, CT. Books were very important to the Hart household. They were very hard to get, and very expensive. Many times Emma's mother or father would read aloud from Chaucer, Milton, and Shakespeare. Religion, politics and current events were talked about in great detail. This was the start of Emma's love of reading and thirst for knowledge.

Emma attended a district school at Worthington Point in Berlin, where she studied reading, writing, spelling and some arithmetic. Once these subjects were learned, grammar and geography were introduced. Religion was thoroughly learned. Students from Kensington, New Britain, and other adjoining towns attended the school.

Emma Hart was 17 years old when asked to teach the children in the village. Her students' progress was marvelous, and she received many commendations. At 19 she took over the school at a salary of $3.00 per week. Soon after her 20th birthday, Emma was asked to teach in Westfield, Ma; Middlebury, VT; and Hudson, N.Y. She chose Westfield because it was close to home. She soon left because she felt that her teaching abilities were cramped, and that she deserved a better salary. She then went to Middlebury, and reopened a school for young ladies.

On August 10, 1809 Emma married Dr. John Willard and gave up teaching. Dr. Willard was a wealthy man. After becoming disinterested in medicine, he became very involved in politics, and was appointed Marshall of the District of Vermont under Jefferson's administration. However, after several years, the Willard’s were faced with financial difficulties due to the State Bank being robbed. To help out in 1814 Emma opened a school called Middlebury Female seminary.

In 1818 Emma decided to make her dream a reality by opening an institution for women. She dared not call it a college, because a college for women was absurd. After much preparation and rejection, Mrs. Willard opened the Waterford Academy in New York. In spite of rejections and indifferences of the public, there was a strong movement among women for improved education. In 1821 the Waterford Academy had to close because the Legislature would not provide the needed funds.

However, citizens of Troy, New York urged Mrs. Willard to move her school there, and in September of that year, the Troy Female Seminary was officially opened. 

In 1822 along with another professor, "A System of Universal Geography on the Principles of Comparison and Classification" was published. This book received favorable attention and was widely circulated and increased her prestige as an educator.

In 1834 Emma Hart Willard returned to Berlin, and had her son and daughter-in-law run the school. In 1839 citizens elected Emma as superintendent of the four schools of the Worthington district. It is said that Mrs. Willard's work in the common schools of Kensington was looked upon as a model for improving schools throughout the country.

In 1844 Emma Hart Willard returned to Troy, New York to be near her son. She continued writing and published several more history books.

On April 15, 1870 Emma Hart Willard died. A pioneer for women's education and her lifetime commitment is a legacy today, as no other woman had so daringly fought for education.

 

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